68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. 69 He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, 70 as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, 71 that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. 72 Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant, 73 the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us 74 that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. 76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. 78 By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, 79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
I invite you to read a bit more of this story that starts in Luke 1:5-25. The story of Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth is one of my favorites. They are the parents of John the Baptist. Zechariah’s story is the first one told in the Gospel of Luke.
Zechariah and Elizabeth had hoped to have children, but that didn’t happen. They had hoped, but had given up on that hope.
Zechariah served as a priest in Temple in Jerusalem. Luke tells us that he was chosen to offer incense in the Holy of Holies. This was a high honor. Only the selected priest would go in to offer a burnt offering to God, and in doing so, the priest was making an offering for all people on their behalf.
Not only was there that pressure of all the people waiting on your offering, but there had been times in the past when priests “didn’t do it right” so to speak, and were struck down dead in that holy place. Because of this, a golden chain would be fastened around the ankle of the priest, so that if he did perish, the other priests could drag him out! Oh my.
So Zechariah enters the holy place to make the offering. I imagine he was so careful to “do it right” that he didn’t notice the angel Gabriel standing next to the altar. Once he sees Gabriel, Zechariah is terrified. Gabriel offers the familiar message of the angels – do not be afraid. Ha. Easier said than done, right?
Gabriel tells Zechariah that God has heard his and Elizabeth’s prayers for a child, and God would give them a son.
Zechariah begs to differ with Gabriel (not a good idea), since they are both old and beyond child-bearing years.
Because of his reluctance to believe, Gabriel informs Zechariah that he will be mute until the child is born. Imagine that – a preacher struck silent for 9 months (don’t get any ideas!).
The people worried when Zechariah was delayed. When he did finally come away from that holy encounter, he tried to let them know he had a vision. What a vision it was.
Finally, he and Elizabeth went home.
Have you ever been so busy that you have missed a message from God? How many times would we be struck silent for not trusting God’s promises?
When the time comes for the child to be named, Zechariah is still mute, due to his unwillingness to believe God’s promise spoken by Gabriel. Everyone is guessing what the child’s name will be – maybe Zechariah Jr.? Frustrated with the conversation, Zechariah grabs a tablet and writes, “His name is John.”
Imagine now, after nine months, Zechariah now can speak. And when he speaks, his words are words of praise. First of all, praise to God. Read again verses 67-75. After nine months, hear these words flow from his mouth.
And then, the image I have is that Zechariah takes the child into his arms and sings this beautiful refrain in verses 76-79. Can you imagine what that must have looked like?
The other image that comes to mind is the blessing I have had to hold my children and also more recently my grandchildren for the first time. To see the wonder of life in such a small package, with my heart full of love and thanksgiving. That is what I imagine Zechariah was feeling too.
Thank God for Zechariah, who shares his song with us.
Let us Pray: We give you thanks, Almighty God, for Zechariah, who prepares the way for the one will come and prepare the way for your Son. Help us to listen and trust in your promises. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.